Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Vacation Books 2008

Maria's wish is my command (well, this time). She asked to hear about the books and I was just thinking that it was time to write about the books, here goes. In no particular order, these are what I've been reading recently (and what has been occupying my time instead of writing).

The Grand Tour
by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Years ago I read Sorcery & Cecelia by these same two authors. The idea behind that older book was started as a game in which each author "took" a character and then wrote letters to the other character, developing the story as it went along. According to the notes, they did that and ended up with very little communication (except once to decide how long it would take to wrap up the story lines so everything came out at the same time). They liked what came of that so well it was turned into a book about two young ladies of the Regency, one just having her coming-out season in London, the other stuck in the country with one of the aunts. It had impertinence and magic and romance and danger. It was silly and they were somewhat silly, but I enjoyed it and have read it more than once. I was not sure I'd like the sequel. But this year I gave up, bought it and dove in. Once again the story was told from first one viewpoint, then the other. The book's title page lays it out like this:
The Grand Tour or the Purloined Coronation Regalia: being a revelation of matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, including extracts from the intimate diary of a Noblewoman and the sworn testimony of a Lady of Quality
This allows for alternative views, even though they are traveling together across Europe. Again it was silly and impertinent and clever and brave, and in grave danger, as is the entire world or at least all of Europe. And I enjoyed it.

Bedlam's Edge
edited by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
fantasy short stories and one essay
Most of these stories have elves, but not in the time or places you might think. One story has a serial killer looking for teenage mall rats as victims, another is set in the civil war, another is set in modern South Africa, and another involves a search in a very dangerous modern place for the bottle of a djinn. How the long-lived elves and other magic creatures interact with people in the modern day is the general topic of a dozen or so stories. It was a quick read for me.

Steal the Dragon
by Patricia Briggs
I have been reading a series by the author and I really liked her characters so I tried this novel set in another world. The description of the book had me a bit skeptical: the main character's tribe had been attacked by slave traders when she was a girl, but she had escaped to freedom and trained horses until the head of the spies needs someone to pretend to be a slave in the place she escaped from... It could have been dreck, but in Patricia Briggs' hands I enjoyed the story. I found the main character smart, likable, and believable. Well, as long as you buy into the magic end of things, and the chance that the enemy might be a god, and the ally might not be what he seems either. I liked it well enough I may read it again sometime.

Fantasy Gone Wrong
Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A. Koren
fantasy short stories
I really liked this collection of short stories where the expected tales take at least one turn for the unexpected. Most had a lot of humor in them. In one the characters start giving the author a lot of backtalk. In another the goblin is not at all what you think (and if only that baby goblin would go to sleep!) And Esther M. Friesner's contribution has this phrase near the beginning:
...As the boldest, bravest, and third-handsomest knight ever to couch lance in the service of his king, there could be only one thought going through his mind at such a solemn moment, namely:
"Why do I always get the squirrel-butt jobs?"
I gotta love them.

Cast in Shadow
by Michelle Sagara
(Yea, I know, all fantasy so far. I promise I did read some other books. Just hold on a little longer.)
I have been putting off getting this book for a while. It too had a description that made me wonder if I'd like it, but I decided I could always put it down. Except that I couldn't put it down. I was dropped in the middle of a place with so many different kinds of peoples. And the protagonist (a kind of policewoman) is forced to work with a ghost (not literally) from her past, as a nightmare of a killing spree that she survived as a child is playing out again in the slums she came from. I couldn't wait to get from one chapter to the next and I was satisfied with the ending, although it is the beginning of a longer arc of a tale that I foresee will take at least a few books to get to the bottom of. Guess I'll have to watch for the sequels now.

Sleeping with the Fishes
by Mary Janice Davidson
fantasy (but quite different)
Fred is a mermaid. She has green hair (but everyone thinks it is blue). She works in Boston's New England Aquarium (trying hard not to get wet because she likes being able to leave at night instead of being kept in a tank there) but she's having trouble getting the fish to eat because they want her to play loud music when she feeds them. She hasn't had a date in just about forever and her best friend (who everyone thinks is a gay but is really straight and in love with Fred's boss) keeps telling her she needs to get laid. And all at once, she meets a very handsome man, a visiting researcher at the Aquarium who is trying to figure out where the suddenly-high toxin levels in the harbor are from. And then the mer-Prince from the Black Sea there to do the same thing (and make Fred his wife, or so he says). A rollicking romp that had me snorting (in a good way). Did I remember to tell you that Fred can't ride in a boat? She gets seasick. And she's allergic to shellfish!

All Together Dead
by Charlaine Harris
Another Sookie Stackhouse novel in which our intrepid heroine now has a boyfriend with no (apparent) ulterior motives. He is a shape-shifter, but that's better than her erstwhile vampire lover (whom Sookie is trying to ignore). Sookie had promised to travel with the Louisiana Queen of the Vampires to the Vampire Conference in Chicago (Sookie had never been that far north) in order to mind-read the other humans who might be accompanying the other Vampire courts. If you are confused, you need to back up and read the books in order. Or else the part about where her brother wants to get married might be a bit confusing.
As for this installment, well. I like Sookie, I really do. But she just HAS to start learning to say "No." Weird things are going to find their way into her life without her having to practically go looking for them. All-in-all a good story, and I'll be back for the next installment.

A Deeper Sleep
by Dana Stabenow
I don't read many mysteries these days (though we have plenty in the house because they seem to be Chelle's favorite genre) but Kate Shugak novels are ones I try to keep up with. In this one, Kate and others know who did it. But the trick is proving it. And when he goes to trial, they can't believe that the charges didn't stick. Now how to keep him from killing again...
The crimes are horrible and are described from the viewpoint of the victims. But other things in the book are lighter. Especially the change in Kate and Jim Chopin's relationship. Cracked up up a few times! He should know better!

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth
by Chelsea Cain
I was still pretty young when I found a copy of The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene at my grandma's house. I guess it had belonged to my older sister. I read it and was hooked. I read all the other Nancy Drew books I could find in the local library, and then had them order the others from the inter-library loan. Somehow I never was drawn into any of the other teen-sleuth stories, but I knew of quite a few. I later read that Keene didn't actually write all the books, many (most?) were written by a consortium of writers. All of that, and the fact that I have a twisted sense of humor, means I was the perfect target audience for this book by Chelsea Cain. Here is a sense of what's inside from the Introduction:
...As many of you know me only as a character in a series of books written by a former friend of mine named Carolyn Keene, let me make one thing clear: Carolyn Keene used my name without my permission and made a career for herself telling stories of my adventures, many of which were fraught with error and some of which were patently false.
...I feared that if I revealed myself, details might come to light that could embarrass my husband and child.
Yet the time is now ripe for Nancy Drew to do just that. Reveal herself and the truth behind the stories in those teen-sleuth novels, and the other mysteries that she faced in her adult life too. I chuckled throughout the whole thing. If you don't know much about the teen sleuths of those old books, then much of the parody will be lost on you. But I thought it was a riot.

Between the Bridge and the River
by Craig Ferguson
I love Craig Ferguson, although I hate to admit I am ever up long enough to see him on late, late night T.V. I always thought he was smart and when I heard he had written a novel, I put it on my list. Now it seemed to me that the story must have something to do with suicide (and someone jumping from a bridge) and before you get too far into this book you do encounter someone on his way to commit just such an act. But this book has so much more in it. With a large cast of characters (and I do mean characters, all writ large) on both sides of the Atlantic, the author gives even the minor walk-on parts depth and history. And linkage. A lot of interconnectedness flows through the braided stories and it should come as no surprise that one of the characters regularly talks with the dead Carl Jung. From Scottish schoolboys to American con-artists, a sad-beautiful French woman fated to love men about to die to a deadly-snake-handling reverend from Florida, this book ranges from topic to topic, but ties it all together through dreams and inspiration and shear coincidence.
It has graphic sex and violence. It has politics or the drama that stands in for politics. The characters are not afraid to state their piece whether or not it will offend someone. It has cynicism but also optimism. And I think it works beautifully.

In addition to those, Chelle and I are maybe half-way through the last Harry Potter book (don't spoil the ending, please!) and I'm half-way through yet another fantasy novel. More on them when we finish.


Janet said...

I love Charlaine Harris's southern vampire series! And you know what attracted me to the book? The sparkly cover LMAO! I think I'm part magpie or something ;-)

Also, I loved your review of Craig Ferguson's book. "It has cynicism but also optimism." - kind of like the man himself! I tivo his show and have for a couple years...he is one funny mofo! Did you know he'll be in Boston in October? I've got tickets :-)

As for Harry Potter, can't WAIT to read your review for that. Will you let me know when it's up? Enjoy!

Maria said...

I had no idea that Craig Ferguson wrote a book...

And the rest of the stuff was enlightening as I am not, in general, into fantasy. I might try one or two of those you read.

And, yeah...tell us what you think of Harry.

Have you read any of Stephenie Meyer? I poohed her and only read her after my niece begged me to and I fell in over my head...really interesting character development, although the writing is not that hot.

sister AE said...

Hi, Janet,
I must admit I'm alway surprised by the sparkles on the covers (every single time!) but I like 'em too. I didn't know he was headed to Boston but its unlikely I'll go to see him. Will do on the HP review.

Hello, Maria,
Glad you made it through the pile of fantasy reviews (I remember it's not usually your thing). Stephanie Meyer doesn't sound familiar but I'll look her up and give her a try.

barbie2be said...

i generally prefer laurell k hamilton's vamp books to charlaines.

i just finished a pretty good book called "such a pretty fat" by jen lancaster.

michele sent me!

sister AE said...

Hi, barbie2be. Thanks for the visit, and the tip.